The patch was thin, so you’d think it would melt first, but physics doesn’t work that way. Before the temperature could get up to the patch’s melting point of 1530°C, everything that could melt at a lower temperature had to melt first. And the melting point of the smelter walls was 1450°C. So, even though the patch was thin and the smelter was thick, the bottom of the smelter would give out before the patch got anywhere near its melting point.
Don’t believe me? Put ice water in a saucepan and cook it. The water temperature will stay at 0°C until the last ice cube melts.
I crawled out from the pit and checked the control room. Still empty. But not for long. The train had left.
With all that chlorine in the air, it made sense to send the workers back to town. But once they got there, a bunch of hazmat-suited engineers would board and come right back. I had ten minutes for the train to get to town, call it another five for the changeover, then another ten until the enemy cavalry arrived. Twenty-five minutes.
I hurried to the thermal control box. I unscrewed four bolts and took the access panel off. I yanked out the thermocouple management board and produced a replacement board from my duffel. Svoboda had spent the previous evening piecing it together. Pretty simple, actually. It acted just like the normal board, but it would lie to the computer about the bath temperature, always reporting it low. I inserted it into the slot.
For verification purposes, Svoboda’s replacement board had LCD readouts showing the actual and reported temperature. The actual temperature was 900°C and the reported temperature was 825°C. The computer, believing the temperature was too low, activated the main heater.
There was an audible “click” even though there was no relay. The power conduit—thickest power line I’d ever seen, by the way—actually squirmed for a moment when the current began. So much electricity flowed through that cable, the resulting magnetic field made it bounce around while it ramped up power. It settled down once the current got to full amperage.
I watched Svoboda’s board. Soon, the actual temperature clicked up to 901 degrees. Then, in far less time, it rose to 902. Then directly to 904. Then 909.
“Shiiit,” I said. That was way the hell faster than I expected. Turns out a massive power line carrying the bulk of two nuclear reactors’ output can heat things up pretty quickly.
I left the access panel on the floor and ran back to my private entrance.
Dale waited for me in the inflatable connector. “Well?” he asked.
I shut the air-shelter door behind me. “Mission accomplished. The smelter’s heating up fast. Let’s get out of here.”
“All right!” Dale held up his gloved hand.
I gave him a high five (can’t leave a fella hanging). He bobbled down the tunnel toward the rover.
I took one last look at the air-shelter hatch to make sure it was sealed properly. Then I turned back and started down the tunnel—wait a minute.
I spun back to the hatch. I could swear I’d seen movement behind me.
The hatch had a small, round window. I drew closer to it and looked through. There, inspecting equipment along the far wall of the smelter bubble, was Loretta Sanchez.
I put both hands on my head. “Dale. We have a problem.”
Sanchez peered at the emergency air system. She wore goggles and a breather mask. Apparently a little chlorine gas didn’t scare her.
Dale, halfway down the inflatable, gestured to the rover. “Come on, Jazz! Let’s go!”
“Loretta Sanchez is in there!”
I pointed to the airlock window. “She’s just wandering around like she owns the place.”
“She does own the place,” Dale said. “Let’s get out of here!”
“We can’t leave her there.”
“She’s a smart woman. When the meltdown starts she’ll leave.”
“Where will she go?” I demanded.
“The train left.”
“The air shelter, then.”
“That won’t protect her from molten steel!” I turned to the hatch. “I have to get her.”
Dale stomped back toward me. “Are you out of your mind?! These people tried to kill you, Jazz!”
“Whatever.” I checked the tape on my mask and goggles. “Get to the rover. Be ready for a quick exit.”
“Go!” I snapped.
He hesitated for a second—probably to decide if he could physically force me back to the rover. He wisely chose not to and headed down the inflatable.
I spun the hatch valve and stumbled back into the facility. Sanchez didn’t notice me at first—her attention was on the emergency air system. Probably trying to figure out why it wasn’t cleaning the air.
How does one introduce herself in a situation like this? I don’t think Emily Post covered “saving an enemy’s life during industrial sabotage” in her etiquette books. I went with a tried and true method.
“Hey!” I yelled.
She whipped around and grabbed her chest. “Goodness!”
She panted a few times and regained her composure. She was a little older and more weathered than the pictures I’d seen of her. Still, she was spry and healthy-looking for a fifty-year-old. “Who on God’s gray moon are you?”